Based on the book Teenage: The Creation of Youth by Jon Savage, Matt Wolf’s documentary attempts to follow the evolution of the teenager, from his/her American ‘invention’ post WWII to the present day, via England, Germany and the States.
Of course the teenager has always existed, and the opening images of young people from the early 20th century talking of fashion, fame and records show us that not an awful lot has changed….
One could be forgiven for assuming from this prologue that perhaps a rather formulaic piece will follow, one that will simply move us through soundtracks, fashion and hairstyles. Thankfully, however, Teenage is not the case; this is quite the political piece, beginning with child labour in 1904 and then moving through both of the World Wars.
Setting it apart from the traditional documentary format is a multimedia approach that layers archive footage with several voiceovers from actors that dramatise the content, using excerpts from real diaries that are expanded upon by a script. This was a smart move from Wolf, creating a personal feel that is especially emotive for the wartime segments of the film.
The edit — which is an excellent job, smoothly blurring the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction — shifts us back and forth between these conflicts and more carefree times across the continents; highlighting the use of that youthful exuberance as a political tool; inserting wartime propaganda and snippets of political speeches from Roosevelt and Hitler to hammer the point home.
exuberance as a political tool
What does let Teenage down is its short run-time; 78 minutes is not quite enough to cover what is an ambitious scope of subcultures, and some footage is a tad hodgepodge, included for the sake of it. Nevertheless Teenage is an interesting, idiosyncratic piece that, thanks again to that excellent edit, creates the impression that we are somehow following one single generation throughout the four decades represented.
Here, the film succeeds very well in making its point, that the teenager is a creature whose needs and wants are the same, no matter the era.
BFI October 10
Ritzy October 11
VUE October 13
Naila Scargill is editor and publisher of Exquisite Terror, an academic take on the filmic horror genre.